REAL THAW 13 sets aim for interoperability
Aircraft and military professionals from the U.S., Portugal, Netherlands, the U.K. and NATO are continuing to develop their ability to work together during REAL THAW 13, Feb. 11-22.
Pilots from the 81st Fighter Squadron prepare for an upcoming mission in Monte Real, Portugal, Feb. 14, 2013. The 81st is participating in REAL THAW, a Portuguese military exercise. This exercise seeks to provide a realistic operating environment that accurately reflects current theaters of operation, provide adequate training to multinational participants while coordinating joint operations assets on land, air and sea, and improve interoperability between allied forces.
2 photos: Pilots from the 81st Fighter Squadron prepare for an upcoming mission in Monte Real, Portugal
Photo 1 of 2: Pilots from the 81st Fighter Squadron prepare for an upcoming mission in Monte Real, Portugal, Feb. 14, 2013. The 81st is participating in REAL THAW, a Portuguese military exercise. This exercise seeks to provide a realistic operating environment that accurately reflects current theaters of operation, provide adequate training to multinational participants while coordinating joint operations assets on land, air and sea, and improve interoperability between allied forces. Download full-resolution version
U.S. Airmen from the 81st Aircraft Maintenance Unit prepare an A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft for take-off in Monte Real, Portugal, Feb. 14, 2013. This is the first time the 81st has participated in REAL THAW, a multinational exercise hosted by the Portuguese military.
2 photos: U.S. Airmen from the 81st Aircraft Maintenance Unit prepare an A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft for take-off in Monte Real, Portugal
Photo 2 of 2: U.S. Airmen from the 81st Aircraft Maintenance Unit prepare an A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft for take-off in Monte Real, Portugal, Feb. 14, 2013. This is the first time the 81st has participated in REAL THAW, a multinational exercise hosted by the Portuguese military. Download full-resolution version
Pilots from the 81st Fighter Squadron prepare for an upcoming mission in Monte Real, Portugal, Feb. 14, 2013. The 81st is participating in REAL THAW, a Portuguese military exercise. This exercise seeks to provide a realistic operating environment that accurately reflects current theaters of operation, provide adequate training to multinational participants while coordinating joint operations assets on land, air and sea, and improve interoperability between allied forces.
U.S. Airmen from the 81st Aircraft Maintenance Unit prepare an A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft for take-off in Monte Real, Portugal, Feb. 14, 2013. This is the first time the 81st has participated in REAL THAW, a multinational exercise hosted by the Portuguese military.

MONTE REAL, Portugal -- Aircraft and military professionals from the U.S., Portugal, Netherlands, the U.K. and NATO are continuing to develop their ability to work together during REAL THAW 13, Feb. 11-22.

REAL THAW is the Portuguese military's premiere annual exercise that integrates the Portuguese Army, Navy and Air Force for joint operations and scenarios. The exercise also includes forces from partner nations.

The 81st Fighter Squadron, out of Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, is one of the U.S. representatives in Portugal. Their airframe, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, is the only close air support aircraft participating this year, and the Portuguese military is taking full advantage of its capabilities.

"The A-10 is a special asset that we don't have the everyday opportunity to work with," said Portuguese air force Lt. Col. Carlos Lourenco, the director of REAL THAW.

The Portuguese air force flies the F-16 Fighting Falcon as their primary fighter aircraft, but do not have a close air support aircraft like the A-10. Having the ability to conduct operations like search and rescue with the 81st is beneficial for training.

This is especially important for the helicopter squadrons, and working together increases both parties' understanding of operating in a joint environment, said Lourenco.

"Our opportunity to be here and train on a wide variety of missions is invaluable for us. We haven't been able to do this in months, " said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Clint Eichelberger, 81st commander.

The exercise helps keep pilots from the 81st combat-ready, because of the different skill sets that they can train on here. Some of the scenarios they've supported so far are combat search and rescue, close air support and convoy escort. The upcoming week will also integrate the Portuguese navy, and the 81st will provide maritime air support, said the colonel.

"We are very rarely going to go anywhere that we'll deploy and not have to work with other forces. We're always going to integrate, whether they be air forces, ground forces, or maritime," said Eichelberger. "The last place that you want to figure out how to work together is on the battlefield. That's why coming to these exercises are so important."

Although the 81st is inactivating later this year, it gives both the U.S. and Portuguese forces a chance to learn in a joint environment and draw on each others' strengths to provide a solid response if contingencies arise.

"Everyone has different experience levels, so we all can learn from each other," said Lourenco of the training. "The A-10 brings new approaches and lessons we can apply to our own experience." 

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